A group of so-called spiritual or rationalist Christians which arose in Russia some time before the late eighteenth century, when its members first appear as the objects of persecution. Their name “spirit-wrestlers,” originally intended by enemies to suggest strife against the, was taken by them to designate striving by means of the Spirit. Christian doctrines are interpreted by them as manifested in the nature of man. The Trinity is Light, Life, and Peace, with which each man may be linked by Memory, Understanding, and Will. The story of Jesus symbolizes a spiritual development which anyone may undergo. Death is insignificant since the soul migrates. Advance beyond the revelation through Jesus is possible, and others may be called “son of God.” Ritual acts of all kinds are rejected. They are pacifist, agrarian, acknowledge no earthly government, and will not own property. Doukhobors were fiercely persecuted from the start, although their upright life was acknowledged. They were exiled first to Siberia, later to “Milky Waters” in Taurida, and again to Georgia. In each case they came into conflict with the authorities. Under the influence of Tolstoy they refused army service. Tolstoy and English Quakers (who felt some affinity) publicized their plight and arranged emigration to Canada in 1898. There also conflict with authority arose over landownership, and registration of births, deaths, and marriages. In protest, extremist Doukhobors (Sons of Freedom) have resorted to parading naked and to arson and dynamiting. The majority have come to compromise with the authorities, buying their land, in the prairies and British Columbia. Many Doukhobors remaining in the Soviet Union were liquidated in the Stalinist era, but some villages remain in Georgia.
F.C. Conybeare, Russian Dissenters (1921); W. Kolarz, Religion in the Soviet Union (1961), pp. 353-56; G. Woodcock and I. Avakumovic, The Doukhobors (1968).